#266: CLEANING CAGES (AND SOME STEVENS)

Yesterday after work, I decided that it was about time I cleaned the birds' cages. Well, actually, I decided that crawling under the blankets and hiding in bed would be a good idea, but then I worried about boredom. Then, I decided on a hot bath, because the Fiery One brought home some bath bombs the other day. For some unknown reason, perhaps due to my natural existentialist response, I was feeling small and physically feeble and wanted to remove myself from as much of the world as I could. As I was on my way to the bathroom, I passed by the room that the birds reside in, and as they usually do, they started dancing and singing like mad, because they treat the Fiery One and me like celebrities in our own apartment. It's like they're pointing with their little wings and screaming Oh my god, it's her! It's her!

I poked my head into the room to squawk back at them, because they seem to like that, and I was reminded of the promise that I made to them so long ago. Well before we went away for the Easter long weekend, I had promised myself, the Fiery One, and those sweet little birds that their cages would be cleaned top to bottom. Those three finches (Elliott, Lady Bird, and The Male) are surprisingly messy, spitting seeds all over the room, shedding feathers, and somehow getting little bird poops everywhere, including on the wall behind their cages. So, instead of hiding in bed or soaking in a hot bath, I decided that it would be more therapeutic for everyone living in our apartment if I got down to the business of cleaning those cages.

Originally, we had two birds: George and Elliott. George died a couple of years ago, and all we had was a very lonely Elliott until I adopted two more finches at some point this last fall, Lady Bird and The Male. You would think that by now I would remember how desperately attached Lady Bird and The Male are to each other. Originally, the pair came living in the same cage together, but now they live in separate cages side by side, because she denudes him of all his body feathers otherwise. Now that they live apart, they visit through the bars, and if he shows any signs distress, she presses her little body against the bars in an effort to squish her way through to his side. Their love has not been driven under by small obstacles such as spousal abuse or two sets of metal bars, no way.

When I set out to clean their cages, I took Elliott and Lady Bird's cage first, because seeing as their cage was worse off for housing two of them together, I thought that I would get the dirtiest one over with at the beginning. Apparently, I must be the coldest, most heartless human being alive, because when I took their cage into another room and away from The Male, he started shrieking. The Male seems to think that I am taking the other two to their deaths if I ever remove their cage from the room. His cries punctuated the air, spacing themselves evenly and rapidly, each of them identical, almost mechanical in his abject animal distress. I didn't feel that there was enough room in our little bathroom for two bird cages and me while I was trying to clean them up, so I hardened my heart and left him to shriek.

I am a bad, bad person with a heart the size and consistency of a peanut.

Cleaning Lady Bird and Elliott's cage is more difficult than The Male's, because there are two of them to keep track of. When I'm cleaning, I wait until they are both up on their perches, and then I lift off the top part of the cage and put it on the floor. This way everyone stays safely caged while I clean out the bottom tray. When the bottom part of the cage is clean, I lift the top part onto the bottom part again when I can urge them both up on a perch. This method works quite well, because no birds have to go through the stress of being handled (finches are none too crazy about being touched) and there is almost no chance of injury to anyone.

This time, though, was a slightly different story. Lady Bird was being terribly annoying. When I took the top part of the cage off and when I put it back on, she wouldn't get off the floor. I eventually did get her off the floor and the top back on after cleaning, but then when I was putting my hand into the cage to put in a clean bowl of seeds, she kept hurling her body around like some maniac. I was afraid that she would hurt herself, so I was trying to keep my arm out of the way. This turned out to be a stupid move, because she pushed herself out of the opening next to my arm and flew out, landing on top of her cage.

I didn't want to just reach out and grab her, despite the fact that she was no more than one foot from me, because I'm always so worried about damaging their delicate wings. (Elliott has managed to bust both of his all on his own and has not been able to fly any further than the length of his cage for about three years). She flew over to the roll of toilet paper on the window sill and sat there looking around the room. She's a nervous bird, so she wasn't thrilled with her freedom. In fact, I think it terrified her. She did not even peep.

I was scared for her and closed the bathroom door so that she wouldn't end up panicking all over the apartment. Doesn't a bird flying in the house mean a death in the family? Or does it have to be a wild one coming in from outside to mean anything?

Just like the other two, she hated being out. Finches are the bottom of the bird world's hierarchy, so the wild ones pretty much spend their entire lifespan living in abject fear and rarely make it longer than a year. Lady Bird espied the cage on the floor, hopped down, and stood next to her cage, pressing her little wing against it and looking in at Elliott like he was the luckiest bird ever. I lifted the top and let her in, which was met with much singing by the both of them. They truly hate to watch any of the others suffer through any amount stress.

I couldn't believe how much my own heart started palpitating when Lady Bird landed on the toilet paper and I ran to close the bathroom door. I am terribly attached to these small creatures. They all greet me every day when I come home from work, they shout out to me when it's time for food or water, they dance, The Male and Lady Bird have a sweet thang going on that no one can stop, and seeing Lady Bird in distress and and confusion on that toilet paper roll jolted me so strongly that my hands and feet tingled with the rush of adrenaline. It was such a relief to see her safely back in her cage that I laughed along while they sang their joy at being safe together once again.

Yesterday, my life felt very small to me, like a thing that could be easily broken apart and blown away, like a thing that would not be missed, but sitting on that bathroom floor and giggling with the birds' reunion made being small feel not so bad. In fact, it felt kind of big. There is love in my house.


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"Looking Across the Fields and Watching the Birds Fly" by Wallace Stevens

Elan MorganComment